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Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
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There's nothing better than planning your dream vacation with one of your best friends. Alli and I have been travel buddies for a long time, some of our more notable adventures including a cruise to Bermuda and a college road trip through Florida, but this was our first trip by ourselves. We've always been a bit flighty and that urge to run away manifested in a ten day all-inclusive trip to Cancun shortly after I was accepted to medical school and Alli had landed a well paying adult job. Our decision to go to Mexico was a bit spontaneous but we decided on an all-inclusive resort, the Oasis Cancun, to get the most bang for our buck. The ten day stay and round trip airfare came to about $1,400 for each of us, booked through a price that was well worth it for unlimited alcohol, buffets, and a really beautiful resort.

I won't lie and say our parents were pleased about us going to Mexico alone. In fact, everyone we talked to about the trip warned us extensively about leaving the resort, the dangers of downtown Cancun, and the drug-related violence in Mexico in general. Although we were concerned about our safety, we agreed on some ground rules and trusted each other to be smart about our vacation in a foreign country. As it turns out, we ended up leaving the resort almost every day (sorry ground rules!), and our trip was all the better for it.

Alli and I are pretty low maintenance when it comes to traveling, we chose the all-inclusive because we weren't concerned with five star dining. Our main goals were to enjoy the sun and sand and to have a good time. We also agreed that we wanted to see Mayan ruins and experience the local culture if at all possible. We decided to utilize our Cheap Carribean contact person for information about excursions and things to do locally. I was hesitant to book through him because I thought it would be a rip off but agreed to hear him out. I highly recommend doing this even if you don't intend on buying any packages, it gave us a good idea of what was available and we then had a baseline of how much these things would cost. Our guide offered a variety of activities: parasailing, booze cruises, club passes, anything you could think to do in Mexico. To my surprise we ended up purchasing two excursions, both of which were more than worth the price. We bought a jungle tour including kayaking, ziplining, and rappelling all before visiting a Mayan village and enjoying their cuisine and culture. That was just the first half of the day! After our jungle tour, we would travel to Copa, home to some amazing and well preserved ruins, one of which is the tallest in the area that we were able to actually climb (terrifying, but so thrilling). This whole adventure cost a mere $100. We also bought a $75 sailing trip (with snorkeling and unlimited alcohol) to Isla Mujeres, where we would have several hours to explore the island and visit the shops there (all of which will give you shots of homemade tequila- this particular excursion is a bit of blur for me) before enjoying dinner on the beach (some of the best food on the trip!). Both of these trips required us to leave the resort, one of the best decisions we made. The experiences kayaking through the jungle, climbing ruins in Copa, sailing to Isla Mujeres- these are things you don't want to miss out on. I honestly could not have asked for more from these excursions. I highly recommend utilizing your hotel to set up these types of things, or just to get information about what is available. We did find many different options (some cheaper) at booths set up around downtown Cancun after we had booked, but still, no regrets with the quality of our tours. Those tours offered in the city are definitely worth checking out if you aren't willing to spend as much as we did.

As far as going to downtown Cancun, Alli and I actually felt extremely safe the three times we took the local bus to this area. The bus was about a dollar each way or 100 pesos. We enjoyed our time there shopping (haggling with local store owners) and ate once at a small quesadilla stand (so cheap and delicious) and once at Carlos and Charlies, a chain restaurant with amazing food and very friendly and entertaining staff. For Carlos and Charlies we actually bought a $20 food voucher from our Cheap Carribean contact guy (miss him) that provided us with two entrees, two drinks (as you can probably tell by now this was my favorite part of vacation) and a choice of soup or salad. Extremely worth it as the prices at Carlos and Charlies were steep.

The resort itself was very nice. The buffets were decent, but where we really got our money's worth were the restaurants inside the resort. There were a few you had to pay for but several that were included in the price. We ended up going to these almost every day, it was just a nicer environment, less chaotic than the larger dining halls, and the food was so delicious. One was a little Italian place for dinner and the other was a Mexican themed eatery that we enjoyed having lunch at (again, endless tequila shots- I think "no mas" was the extent of Spanish you need to know for this reason).

Overall, our trip was phenomenal. We spent our days by the clear blue ocean and occasionally at the extensive pools that wrapped around the resorts. We went on two amazing excursions and visited downtown Cancun three times for food and shopping. The hotel provided enough night life for us to stay there every night and have fun with friends we met along the way. I do wish we had gone out to a club in Cancun, but we just didn't have the time or energy to do so. I heard a lot of good things about them though, if that's something you're interested in.

I'm happy Alli and I decided to take the risk of leaving the resort. Without doing so we wouldn't have been able to see Copan ruins or the lovely Isla Mujeres. We wouldn't have experienced the city of Cancun. Most importantly, we wouldn't have gone outside our comfort zone and gained that confidence in ourselves that came from our first hugely successful solo trip. My overall takeaway message here is that when going to a foreign country, decide what you want to get out of the trip beforehand. We knew we wanted to see ruins and experience culture. We made that a priority and went against basically every person from home we talked to to make it happen. Don't believe all the rumors either. I never felt unsafe downtown. Be smart about your travels, but also be open to trying new things, because those are the experiences that will stick with you!
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